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April 11, 2012

Diamond Extra: Greiner getting the message



NO. 10 SOUTH CAROLINA (24-9) at FRANCIS MARION (26-13)
When: 7 p.m. today
Where: Cormell Field at Sparrow Stadium, Florence
Tickets: Sold out
TV: None
Probable starting pitchers: South Carolina -- LHP Adam Westmoreland (2-0, 1.93 ERA). Francis Marion - LHP Matt Broderick (5-1, 2.14)
Notes: South Carolina helps open Francis Marion's brand-new stadium. … The two teams have not played since 1987. … USC leads the series 12-2. … The Patriots are ranked No. 23 in the Division II poll. … FMU has not played a Division I team since 2007. … USC Trustee Eddie Floyd, the Florence representative, will throw out the ceremonial first pitch. … FMU has won 14 of 18 while USC has won seven of nine. … The Patriots' previous facility, the old Cormell Field, was also dedicated against the Gamecocks in 1974. USC won 5-3 after scoring three runs in the eighth inning.
Next up: USC hosts Mississippi State in the first of a three-game series at 7 p.m. on Friday.

Grayson Greiner had one hit in five trips to the plate in Tuesday's 8-0 whitewashing of The Citadel at Carolina Stadium, but he just happened to have the biggest blow of the game, a seventh-inning grand slam into the tunnel between the left-field stands and visitor's bullpen that gave South Carolina a 7-0 lead.

Making the adjustment from high school (Blythewood) to major college baseball has been rocky at times for a prospect that USC coach Ray Tanner favorably compared to Landon Powell before the season started.

Greiner's batting average actually fell two points to .227 with Tuesday's 1-for-5 outing, but his power numbers increased to three homers and 16 RBI and his slugging percentage grew 225 points to .398. Nine of his 20 hits have gone for extra bases.

Tanner said that Greiner has started to learn how to stay aggressive at the plate and swing at pitches early in the count.

"He had one at-bat tonight where he didn't swing it, he just took a couple pitches," Tanner said. "He's starting to get the message. He hit that ball hard and it was good to see."

BELCHER IS BACK: When junior left-hander Nolan Belcher took the mound on Tuesday at the start of the USC-The Citadel game, it represented his first start for the Gamecocks in nearly two years. But Belcher flourished, allowing just three hits and no runs in 5 2-3 innings with seven strikeouts and one walk.

"Coach (Jerry) Meyers told me (Monday) that I would be starting and I was pretty excited to get back out there and start rolling," Belcher said. "I just tried to get ahead early in the count and get some ground balls."

Ever since he arrived on campus in the fall of 2008 and quickly emerged as one of the best pitchers, Belcher has battled control issues. Entering last night's game, Belcher had six walks in 12 innings this season, and 65 walks in 124 1-3 career innings, almost one walk per every two innings.

Tuesday's contest marked Belcher's 11th appearance of the season, the first 10 in relief. His 5 2-3 innings were his longest outing of the year, surpassing the 4 2-3 innings he hurled against Florida on March 23. And it was his longest stretch on the mound since working six innings in his start against Furman on March 16, 2010.

"We've been getting some pretty good distance out of our starters and he's a guy that's sort of been in the middle for us," Tanner said. "He's been feeling really good, his pens have been good and coach Meyers made the suggestion that we get him on the mound for the start. He looked really good to me. I was impressed with his poise, composure and his pitch ability. It was a tremendous outing for Nolan."

ENGLISH TALKS WITH HIS BAT: Lost amidst the heroics of Greiner and Belcher is the fact that freshman Tanner English had one of his best games of the season at the plate on Tuesday, going 3-for-3 with a walk, thus reaching bases four times. It was the second time this season English has collected three hits in a game and marked his team-leading 13th multiple-hit game.

English raised his average to .303 (36-for-119), third-highest among the regulars. Thirty-two of his 36 hits have been singles. He has eight RBI and an on-base percentage of .356. English started the season in the No. 2 spot, but struggled before being dropped to the bottom one-third of the order. Tuesday's win marked the 10th time that he has batted ninth, along with his 29th start in left field.

WESTMORELAND GETS THE START: USC has little time to celebrate Tuesday's victory as the Gamecocks travel to Florence for a tilt against Division II Francis Marion (26-13).

Why is USC willing to face a school at a level below Division I? It will be the first game ever played in brand-new Cormell Field at Sparrow Stadium. Junior left-hander Adam Westmoreland (2-0, 1.93 ERA, 18 2-3 innings, 14 hits, four runs, 13 K) will make his fourth start of the season with Francis Marion countering with senior left-hander Matt Broderick (5-1, 2.14).

USC leads the all-time series, 12-2, against FMU, but this is the first meeting between the two schools since 1987. South Carolina won both games against FMU that year with a 9-3 victory in Columbia and a 10-2 win in Florence.

NOTES

* Christian Walker raised his batting average to .342 (41-for-120) with his fifth three-hit night of the season, including a double. He was hit by a pitch, meaning, like English, he reached base four times, improving his on-base percentage to a robust .467. Walker has consistently made contact all season, fanning just 13 times in 120 at-bats. He tops USC in almost every major offensive category, including hits (41), homers (six), RBI (33), total bases (66) and walks (23).

* Three USC pitchers combined for 11 strikeouts and one walk on Tuesday. Through 33 games, USC hurlers have combined for 303 strikeouts - an average of 9.2 per game - and 97 walks for a respectable strikeout-to-walk ratio of 3.12-to-1.

* Left-hander Tyler Webb continued his remarkable season on Tuesday with two innings of hitless and scoreless relief. He replaced Belcher with two outs in the top of the sixth and proceeded to retire all six The Citadel batters he faced, two by strikeout. For the season, Webb is 3-0 with a 0.71 ERA in 25 1-3 innings with 28 strikeouts and just six walks. He's allowed four runs on 13 hits, less than one hit every two innings. Opponents are batting .141 against him.

* Submariner Hunter Privette closed out Tuesday's victory by registering the final four outs in his 10th appearance of the season. Privette, a transfer from Florence-Darlington Tech (the same school that produced John Taylor) has a 1.29 ERA in seven this season. He has 10 strikeouts and only one walk with six hits and one run given up.

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D. McCallum


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